10 Cities and Towns That Tried to Host the U.N.
Back in the mid-1940s, over 200 American municipalities tried persuading the newly-formed United Nations to set up shop on or near their soil, including these 10.
The Motor City’s backers painted Bell Isle as an ideal destination, pointing out that, because the landmass rests between two countries with a long history of mutual respect, its symbolic value was huge. During their bid, local officeholders couldn’t resist the urge to start bragging: “Other American cities may have one advantage, but Detroit has them all,” Convention & Tourist Bureau president Frank A. Pickard said.
2. Claremore, Oklahoma
Apparently, so far as distinctions go, being both Will Rogers’s hometown and the setting of that Rogers & Hammerstein musical weren’t enough for this Great Plains community. Once, when a U.N. plane touched down in Tulsa to refuel at 2:30 a.m., Claremont residents startled its passengers by greeting them with promotional fliers, even after their bid had been denied.
3. San Francisco
It may be easy to leave your heart in San Francisco, but in 1945, flying there from the east coast was a tiring ordeal—the trip usually took upwards of 16 hours, and that was on top of the journey from Europe—so the city was dropped from serious consideration, despite Mayor Roger Lapham’s best lobbying efforts.
Bean Town residents have been calling their city "the hub of the universe" since the 1860s. So, naturally, when word got out that U.N. diplomats were seeking a permanent home for their new "World Capital," Boston threw its hat in the ring. During the winter of ’46, visiting representatives got red-carpet treatment, complete with a scenic blimp ride.
5. Scituate, Rhode Island
New England looked like prime real estate—after all, no U.S. region sits closer to Europe, and on January 23, 1946, U.N. delegates arrived to inspect this pretty Rhode Island town. The weather was perfect: one newspaper reported that it was "as if the landscape had put on costume jewelry for its distinguished guests." But Scituate offered more than scenery. What made it really attractive was a nearby radio listening station which had helped allied forces monitor Nazi activities throughout WWII. According to superintendent Thomas Cave, Scituate was "the best location in the country for radio transmission and reception to any part of the world."
6. St. Louis
7. Hyde Park, New York
This little town had a big advocate. Five months after her husband died in office, Eleanor Roosevelt asked his successor to consider nudging the U.N. toward FDR’s place of birth. After all, as she reminded President Harry Truman, the government already owned land on-site. "[There] is great interest in the village in having some of the property … selected as the permanent headquarters of the United Nations," Roosevelt wrote. Truman replied a few days later, politely noting that while he was grateful for her letter, he didn’t know how the placement decision would be made.
According to Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, Chicago's dark history of terrible fires, vicious gangsters, and strikes posed a challenge to its bid, as did its isolationist leanings. Eventually, this prevailing attitude became a deal-breaker and, just like that, Chicago's odds of winning the U.N. sweepstakes evaporated.
9. Grand Island, New York
Nestled just a few miles upstream of Niagara Falls, this upstate island and town could have become the world’s political epicenter. Instead, it reached the "final four" of the U.N. host site selection process but advanced no further.
If it weren’t for some guy named Rockefeller, the U.N. headquarters would be as quintessentially Philadelphian as cheese steak. Badly wanting to stick this feather in its cap, the City of Brotherly Love fought hard and almost won. Unlike her great rival New York, in which space proved rather tight, Philly was willing to part with essentially any chunk of land for the U.N., and, as an added bonus, even offered to cover all building expenses.
Impressed, the powers that be decided Philadelphia would be a perfect locale. Then, four days before the U.N. planned to announce its impending move there, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and planning czar Robert Moses came up with some land on Manhattan and a promised gift of $8.5 million. In a flash, the deal was done.
The Philadelphia Inquirer took this brush-off hard. "The atmosphere of Manhattan’s gin and jazz would probably be to the liking of international lobbyists, parasites, and camp followers," one writer scoffed, "but it is far from the quiet and dignity in which the United Nations should properly work."
BONUS: South Dakota's Black Hills Region
To Rapid City businessman Paul Bellamy, there was no place on earth that could better serve the U.N. than this remote region. "[The] delegates would think clearer out in the Black Hills," he argued. Geographic isolation would come with other advantages, too. For example, in Bellamy’s mind, a nuclear holocaust wasn’t likely to affect South Dakota all that much: “In the Black Hills, there are no military objectives, and the gentlemen who are striving for peace in the world can live at peace while the atomic bombs are falling.”
Bellamy’s team came up with an outlandish sketch of this future complex. Situated over 100 square miles of tax-free land, there’d be a huge central building surrounded by rings of international offices. Special highways would slice through the neighboring mountains, where diplomats could also set up cozy getaway cottages.